The Memphis actor, filmmaker, artist and publicity director was 86
Don Meyers, a former artistic director of Playboy magazine who has become a ubiquitous and tireless presence on the Memphis film and arts scene at an age when most people envision a peaceful retirement, died Monday morning at the age of 86 .
Meyers, who had been ill, died at Baptist Memorial Hospital of heart and kidney failure, family members said.
An art and advertising director who moved to Memphis around 30 years ago, Meyers didn’t get involved in the local film scene until around 2005.
He wasted no time. Establishing himself as the go-to “old man” of local casting directors, Meyers has appeared in nearly 100 shorts and feature films in 15 years. It has worked for everyone from junior student filmmakers to internationally acclaimed author Wong-kar Wai, who placed Meyers in his partly Memphis 2007 release, “My Blueberry Nights,” among a cast that included Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and singer Norah Jones.
Tall, lanky and distinguished in appearance, Meyers was often recruited by local filmmakers to lend a touch of authority and dignity to typically threadbare productions. His Internet Movie Database credits tell the tale: his listed roles include “grandfather”, “priest”, “judge”, “minister”, “detective”, “scientist”, “surgeon”, “bank president” , “Vampire” and “George Washington”.
He could, however, look sloppy when needed. Other roles include “homeless man” and “zombie”.
Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy, who portrayed Meyers as “Dr. Harbou” (named after Thea von Harbou, writer of the 1927 sci-fi classic “Metropolis”) in his 2009 dystopian thriller “Cigarette Girl” said he bonded with Meyers during the experiences of an advertising man in Chicago during the heyday of Playboy. Meyers has rubbed shoulders with such influential figures as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, Mad Harvey Kurtzman magazine co-founder and writer and cartoonist Shel Silverstein.
“He was from the ‘Mad Men’ generation, he was always up for anything,” McCarthy said. “He understood everything I threw at him when it came to popular culture.”
From working at Playboy to making movies in Memphis
In fact, Meyers has worked with almost every filmmaker in Memphis. For Ira Sachs, he appeared in Memphis’s “Forty Shades of Blue”, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival 2005. He also worked with Morgan Jon Fox, Mark Jones, Chris McCoy, Kirt Gunn, Edward Valibus, Allen C. Gardner and Shelby Baldock and Chad Allen Barton, to name a few.
He also appeared in small roles in director James Mangold’s “Walk the Line”, the 2005 Memphis biopic that won Reese Witherspoon the Oscar for Best Actress, and in Rod’s “Nothing But the Truth”. Lurie in 2008, a journalistic drama starring Kate Beckinsale. , Alan Alda and Angela Bassett.
Meyers did more than act in local “independent” productions. Infected with the film virus, he has written and directed around 20 short films, which have usually premiered at the Indie Memphis Film Festival, the Memphis Film Prize or other local festivals. Some of the more intriguing titles include “Elvis Schmelvis”, “What’s Brewin ‘, Craig?” (a pun on the name of Memphis filmmaker Craig Brewer) and “Chi-Town Cat”.
Whatever he did, Meyers brought to his efforts a lifetime of interesting experiences.
Born in Chicago, he enlisted in the military during the Cold War, and played baseball for several months on the Army team. He also honed his skills as an illustrator and designer.
While still in his twenties, Meyers found a job at Playboy, which was then based in Chicago, where the magazine was founded in 1953. Meyers became artistic director of Playboy, designing covers and advertisements by day. while sometimes partying at Hefner’s Chicago Gold Coast Playboy Mansion at night.
From Playboy, Meyers went to work at famous advertising agency Leo Burnett in Chicago. He left Chicago to work at an advertising agency in Little Rock and then worked in California, creating designs for various film projects (including “Predator”) and finding small acting roles in soap operas.
About 30 years ago, Meyers moved to Memphis, where he was employed by agencies such as the late Chandler Ehrlich. In addition to filmmaking, he used his artistic talent as a gallery photographer and painter of abstract and impressionist canvases, and his talent as a writer to work as an inveterate contributor to the Letters to the Editor column. by The Commercial Appeal.
Meyers and his wife, Lydia Meyers, lived in Cordoba. Besides his wife, Meyers leaves behind his daughter, Lea Meyers of Memphis; his son, Raymond Lenow of Frisco, Texas; one brother, Greg Meyers of Chicago; and a granddaughter, Madison Lenow, a student in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
A private service will take place. The Memorial Park funeral home is in charge.